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Past lessons learnt?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao, Bet Padhao’ (BBBP) scheme says all the right things. India’s child sex ratio has dramatically slipped since the dawn of economic liberalisation. Back in 1991, there were 945 girls for every 1,000 boys. In 2011, the figure fell to a mere 918. By launching the scheme from Haryana, which has one of the worst sex ratios in the country, Modi did lay out a significant marker. The scheme will be initially implemented in 100 districts with the lowest child sex ratio, including 12 in Haryana.

In addition, he also launched  the Sukanya Samridhi Yojna (girl child prosperity scheme), under which girl children below 10 years will have bank accounts with greater interest and tax benefits. As per the scheme, parents need to deposit only Rs 1,000 at the time of her birth. This sum will be followed by payments in multiples of 100 thereafter. By the time the girl is 18 years old, she will be entitled to a sum of Rs 1,50,000. Despite good intentions, the present dispensation can learn certain lessons from earlier girl child schemes that failed to achieve anything significant. Most schemes, launched at both the state and central government level, suffered from poor financial oversight at the ground level.

An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India revealed that Madhya Pradesh government’s Ladli Lakshmi  Yojana was laden with financial irregularities, with Rs 67 lakh issued to ineligible beneficiaries.  In 2010, an extensive study by the Mumbai-based International Institute of Population Sciences evaluated the progress of 15 such girl-child schemes across India that offered financial incentives to families. What they found was that most conditional cash transfer schemes worked on the assumption that low-income families were the worst perpetrators of gender discrimination.

The 2001 census, however, discovered that sex ratios were lower among the educated and affluent, thereby raising suggestions for a better target group formulation. The study also found that bureaucratic hurdles also came in the way of obtaining financial benefits. To conclude, none of these financial incentives really facilitated greater respect for the girl child among Indian families, many of whom exist under a strict patriarchal framework.

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